The recent disaster within the Red Cross’ disaster relief response is Haiti highlights a simple, yet, institutionally difficult issue: the best way to help people after a disaster is to give the people, not the institutions, money. We have a culture of funneling charitable contributions through organizations, partly because it is more convenient, partly because we hope they’ll manage the money more professionally. In reality, the people who best know how the money should be spent – especially in information-poor conditions after a disaster – are the people. There will be inefficiencies and inequities, but we have that with the current system too. Less administrative inertia, greater diversity in the recovery, and a more personal connection between donor and recipient. But our old habit is hard to break.
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